Lerotholi blows M32 million in dodgy deals

Lerotholi blows M32 million in dodgy deals

MASERU – LEROTHOLI Polytechnic College paid tens of millions of maloti to dodgy South African companies that failed to deliver the ordered goods but kept the money. The payments, amounting to a whopping M32 million, were made to the companies between 2011 and 2014 at a time when the college was struggling to make ends meet.

Since then management and the police have been trying to unravel the web of deceit without success.
Efforts to trace the money have stalled amid allegations that local banks are not cooperating with the investigators.
Now the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is asking hard questions to the management and it wants then answered urgently.

Attorney General Haae Phoofolo is also said to be working with the South African authorities to trace the money, according to evidence submitted to the committee last week when its chairman Selibe Mochoboroane and his colleagues grilled the college management over the missing funds.
The acting rector ’Mamokheseng Mpooa, appointed last November, told the committee that she found that not much had been done to trace and recover the money.

Mpooa said two police officers, a senior inspector and a sergeant, only had a breakthrough late last year when they received some information from local banks used to transfer the monies. The committee heard that there seems to have been collusion between the former rector, Tsietsi Lebakae, the governing council and other senior officials to short-circuit the college’s financial regulations.

They are said to have signed cheques paying for teaching materials from certain companies in South Africa that however failed to deliver. It is not clear if they personally benefited from the money. Mpooa told the committee that the missing millions were only a tip of the iceberg of the financial rot she inherited at the college.

Laying the blame squarely on the previous leadership, she revealed that the college had been operating without audited financial statements since 2008. “We have also realised that there was a management crisis at the school between 2011 and 2014,” Mpooa said.
“It is the responsibility of the rector to ensure that the financial statements are submitted quarterly every year. Sadly that was not done, look where we are now.”

She also said the polytechnic’s finance department did not have enough staff.
Mpooa told the committee that between 2008 and 2014 Lebakae and several others violated the school’s procurement regulations by signing cheques amounting to M32 million.

Nearly half of all the purchases were done without tendering process despite the fact that they were above the threshold of M200 000 as required by the school’s procurement regulations. The committee wanted the management to bring relevant information and bank statements to show that they had properly used the M28 million the college receives annually from the government in subvention.

Mpooa said she had come with everything the committee had requested but there were no delivery notes and orders.
“We have brought the needed documents, we came with a list of companies that the money was supposed to go to the bank statements,” Mpooa said.
“The account number that was used was only one while the companies that were paid were many.”

“We have also come with copies of the bank transactions and our financial policy as they were also needed but there is no delivery note as well as order paper, so we did not receive the teaching materials.” Mochoboroane was dismayed that the government has continued to financially support the college even as it repeatedly failed to produce audited accounts.

“This is recklessness at its worst,” Mochoboroane said to officials from the Ministry of Education.
“It defies logic why you continued to give these people money without them showing you how they used the one you gave them in the previous year.”
“You know very well how the government funds are accounted for but you deliberately and unashamedly ignored that.”

“This is a serious matter, the police have to give us a clarification as for why this case is taking this long,” Mochoboroane said.
The Ministry of Education’s tertiary department manager, Dr Makhube Ralenkoane, conceded that mistakes were made.
The PAC is a parliament portfolio committee with a mandate to demand information on government expenditure of public funds and report to the House for it to direct the executive on what should be done.  It has powers to summon anyone in the country who might have any information on how the public funds have been spent.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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